Updated October 21, 2021 - 12:41 am
The five-day break was supposed to allow the Golden Knights time to fix the defensive issues that cropped up early this season.
But Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in front of an announced crowd of 17,690 at T-Mobile Arena showed there’s still work that needs to be done.
Goalie Robin Lehner kept the score close until St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko buried the go-ahead goal with 10:11 left when the Blues quickly transitioned after a turnover by Alex Pietrangelo and created a 3-on-0 rush.
Lehner bounced back from being pulled in his last start to finish with 35 saves, including two breakaways and several point-blank chances.
“I thought we hung in there, just an unfortunate second goal,” Lehner said. “Again, it’s a process. It’s more about the chances, I think. We just have to tighten up a bit and clean up some of the odd-man rushes.”
Center William Karlsson put in his own rebound at 8:17 of the first period for the lone goal against Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington on 43 shots by the Knights.
Defenseman Alec Martinez left in the third period and did not return. There was no update on his status after the game.
Brandon Saad tied the score at 1 for St. Louis when he found room in the slot 3:21 into the second period, and Ivan Barbashev added an empty-net goal.
“We’re playing like it’s the third game of the season, and we don’t have that same mentality where we have to be tighter defensively and really have to shut things down,” forward Reilly Smith said. “I think that’s where our head has to be moving forward.”
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Identity change
Coach Pete DeBoer wants the Knights to establish a foundation built on hard work and being difficult to play while they find their sea legs on offense.
But that’s not what happened much of the night against the Blues, despite what the low score might have indicated.
“I thought early in the game some of our coverage, we were a little loose around the net,” DeBoer said. “Then as the game went on, it was essentially turnovers.”
St. Louis continually found room in the offensive zone through the first two periods and generated 4.38 expected goals with 44 scoring chances (18 high danger) on 67 shot attempts, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. The Blues also forced the Knights into 18 giveaways.
The Knights have allowed 85 shots on goal in the past two games against St. Louis and Los Angeles while being outscored 9-3.
“It’s not been good enough,” Karlsson said. “We need to be tighter, especially in the slot. We gave up way too many chances there. More compact. Try to get the first guy to stop their guy and go from there.”
2. Picking up the slack
The Misfit Line will be counted on to carry the load offensively with leading scorers Max Pacioretty (week to week, lower-body fracture) and captain Mark Stone (lower body) sidelined.
Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Smith were threatening in transition in the first period, generating a pair of two-on-ones. Karlsson scored on the first odd-man rush.
The Knights had 56.3 percent of the shot attempts at five-on-five with that line on the ice, but they were held to two scoring chances in the final two periods.
”I think there’s a little bit more onus on us to create offensive opportunities,” Smith said. “I think the main focus of our group right now is to be able to shut other teams down. We can be hard to play against. We can play 1-0 and 2-1 games, and I think that’s where our mindset has to be.
“Chances will create for themselves when you’re playing tough defensively and teams are getting frustrated and overly trying to push for offense.”
3. Reinforcements arrive
Forwards William Carrier, Brett Howden and Nicolas Roy made their season debuts after returning from injuries.
Carrier has been out since Oct. 5 when he was accidentally kicked in the face by Avalanche defenseman Kurtis MacDermid. He was in concussion protocol and sustained a laceration near his eye.
Howden, acquired in the offseason from the New York Rangers, endured a lower-body injury Sept. 30, the same game Roy was hurt while taking a faceoff late.
The Knights are still without winger Mattias Janmark (COVID-19 protocol).